There’s a new girl in town and her name is Rebecca Rubin.
But she’s not just any girl; she is the most recent addition to the line of American Girl dolls, and she has the distinction of being the first Jewish American Girl.
Scheduled for a May 31 release, Rebecca is the 10th American Girl doll in the historical collection, joining such familiar names as Kaya, Felicity, Molly and Kit. In addition to the doll and accompanying accessories, six books about Rebecca will be released.
American Girl dolls began in 1986. All of the girls in the series represent pivotal time periods in American history, and all have their own story lines and products. For example, there is Kirsten, an emigrant from Sweden in 1854; Samantha, a wealthy orphan living in 1904; and Julie, a girl growing up in San Francisco in 1974.
American Girl also produces limited edition dolls, part of their Girl of the Year collection featuring characters living in current times dealing with modern issues. The first one that was released in 2001 was dubbed Lindsey Bergman, and she was Jewish, although her religion wasn’t highlighted in the book. But Rebecca is the first Jewish doll that has been introduced as part of the permanent collection.
Rebecca’s story is set in 1914 in New York’s Lower East Side during a wave of Russian Jewish immigration. The spunky 9-year old girl lives with her parents, twin sisters, brothers, Grandpa and her stern Bubbie.
The Jewish American Girl concept originated in 2000. The company intended to debut Rebecca in 2004, but due to its foray into the entertainment industry, including movies and release of accompanying “friend” dolls, that plan was delayed.
The introduction of a Jewish American Girl was prompted in part by consumer demand, according to Julie Parks, director of public relations for the American Girl Company.
“We wanted to introduce a character whose story really illustrated the impact that immigrants made to this country,” she said.
In researching the broad picture of American immigration, they learned that the largest influx of immigrants were Russian Jews, who flocked to the United States from 1880 to 1914, so it made sense to create a Jewish character to reflect that time period.
Jacqueline Dembar Greene, author of the Rebecca series, set the story in 1914.
“It was a year when many immigrants were already settled into their new lives in America,” she said, “but at the same time, it was a moment in history when these new Americans were trying to bring over their families and help them get out of Russia before the war and more dangerous restrictions in their lives prevented them from leaving. It was a very dangerous time in Russia for the people who stayed behind, particularly for the Jewish families.”
Greene drew upon family memories to help reconstruct the feeling of that time period.
“Rebecca seemed as though she would be someone who would have a very dramatic flair, a vibrant personality and be a pretty courageous girl, just because of the time she was living in. I wanted to build on the energy that was in America in 1914 and make Rebecca a definite part of that,” she said.
Greene believes that Rebecca’s story will have universal appeal.
“I think that for a lot of girls who are Jewish, they will see aspects of their own lives reflected in Rebecca, yet at the same time, every reader will get some new perspective. While there are many familiar Jewish background elements in Rebecca’s life and within her family that Jewish readers will love to see, I think it will be an introduction to non-Jewish readers to some of the traditions and yet they won’t feel they need to be Jewish to love and relate to the character.”
Parks echoed that sentiment. “Rebecca fits into the American Girl mission by helping girls understand that key moment in history, but also to introduce non-Jewish girls to an important culture that played a key role in the development of our country and to be a window into that culture. For Jewish girls, it is a mirror where they can see a direct reflection of themselves in Rebecca,” she said.
Parks added that she hopes the Rebecca line will spark an interest in girls researching their own family trees.
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)